The Fear

I had another blog post planned for tonight. It was about something that I can’t remember, but I can’t think that it was anything very important (because if it was, I would’ve created a draft entry for it, and I haven’t, so it mustn’t be).

Instead, I’m going to write about The Fear. I’m going to write about it because for no apparent reason that I can discern I’m getting a huge dose of The Fear tonight. It’s unpleasant at best, at worst it can be crippling. So bear with me, if you will.

The Fear, as I experience it, comes in two different flavours. There’s one that’s actually not entirely unpleasant and there’s one that makes me want to hide away, curl up in a ball and pretend that I never wanted to pick up a camera. I’ll talk about the nice Fear first, just in case it makes the less-nice one go away.

The Nice Fear

The Nice Fear is with me before every single shoot. Every last one. It doesn’t matter that I might only be shooting a friend’s kids, or maybe some headshots; I get afraid every single time that I pick up a camera with some expectation of results.

Classic example: the Bad Taste Barbies shoot I did on Sunday night. I was fine when I was checking my gear and charging batteries and going through my pre-shoot checklist; I was fine, too, when I packed the car, kissed my wife goodbye and set off for the studio in Preston. And then The Fear came.

It hit me on the Motorway, somewhere in that dark stretch between junctions 34 and 31 of the M6, where there are no streetlights and, in the early evening murk, all the tail lights of all the cars blur into long trails that dazzle and confuse you. Deep in the pit of my stomach, that fluttering, light feeling. And the thoughts going through my head: What am I going to do, what am I going to do, what am I going to do? How will I pull this off; I’m going to let them down, aren’t I? Why did I ever agree to shoot this?

It gnawed at me all the way from the motorway to the studio. Once inside, setting up the lights and checking light ratios, it seemed easier to push it to the back of my head. Keeping busy, I suppose, is the antidote to the Nice Fear.

But it was still there as I started shooting: would the back-lights work, would the floor blow to white, would the whole attempt at an infinity wall fall flat on its arse, leaving me looking like I didn’t know what I was doing.

And then suddenly it clicks, the fear drops away, and I’m flying. All of a sudden I can do no wrong: the camera feels like an extension of my brain and I know just from a quick glance whether or not I need to make an adjustment. Sod the flash meter, I can eyeball the exposures and just know whether they’re right or not. I look at an image and know that I need to change my lighting setup, and the new setup becomes immediately obvious to me. Effortless, simple, fluid. And the fear is completely gone.

That’s the nice fear. And should I ever not get it before a shoot I think I’ll be genuinely worried about my ability to pull it out of the bag.

The Bad Fear

The Little Voice, I call it sometimes (and I think this is Wil Wheaton‘s word for it, too). Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain. I’ve mentioned it here before.

The Little Voice is the voice of everything that you don’t like about yourself. It’s the part of you that doubts everything you do and tells you that you can’t possibly do one tenth of what you think you can. It’s not like the Nice Fear. The Nice Fear is just about wanting to do a good job and being worried about not doing. No, the Lizard Brain tells you you can’t do a good job, that you’re deluding yourself if you even suspect in your wildest dreams that you could do a good job.

The Lizard Brain visits me quite regularly. Sometimes it’s loud, sometimes it’s not. Tonight it’s being particularly loud for some reason. I don’t know what triggers it. Sometimes it’ll be looking at another photographer’s work (Never, it sneers, never, even if you could practice for all enternity, would you have anywhere near a millionth of their ability. Why don’t you just give up now?), other times it’ll just pop into my head as I consider a personal project or start planning a shoot. Often it’s triggered by someone responding to a casting call or adding me as a friend on Model Mayhem, and I’ll be paralysed and unable to respond to them for days.

I know it’s something that all creative people carry around. After all, seconds after mentioning the Little Voice on Twitter tonight, Christan Cable, a fellow Lancaster photographer who I’ve just started following this evening, replied:

@grahambinns heh, I know just how that feels. Gotta love Seth Godin.

I’ve heard Zack Arias and David duChemin talk about it, too. And that’s before we even start on the long litany of writers, poets, artists, musicians and actors who’ve suffered its effects since time immemorial.

Somtimes you beat the Lizard Brain at its own game. I think, after writing this, I’m just about winning. I’d better make use of it, then.

Thank you for your time, dear reader. You’ve been a great help.